Inside the Middle East
October 15, 2010
Posted: 1516 GMT
A view of the West Bank city of Jericho.
A view of the West Bank city of Jericho.

Editor's note: For more on this story tune in to the next Inside the Middle East show on Wednesday 3 November. Go to the showpage for more detailed showtimes.

Everyone loves a good birthday party until they reach an age when they’d rather forget.   For the West Bank city of Jericho it’s a birthday to be proud of, a milestone no other city in the world has celebrated - 10,000 years .
It’s believed to be the longest continually inhabited place on earth and it’s one of the lowest on earth, skirted by the Dead Sea and the Jordan Valley.
A treat for any historian no matter how amateur, the city boasts one of the first examples of a man-made stone tower …  discovered by a British archeologist in the 1950s, dating back to around 8000 B.C., although its use - whether for religion or security - is unknown.

An eight-meter tower with the world’s oldest known staircase descends from the top - 22 steep, well-worn steps to a tunnel below.
A cable car, opened in 1999, makes quick work of the journey to the summit of the Mount of Temptation, where Jesus is said to have spent 40 days and nights fasting and meditating, resisting the temptations of Satan.
Jericho is already popular for a West Bank city.  The tourism ministry tells CNN one million foreign tourists come every year, as well as 500,000 local visitors.  Only Bethlehem attracts more in the West Bank.
But by celebrating Jericho’s incredible birthday, Palestinian officials are hoping to attract many more.  Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad tells us, “We’ve been around a long time and we intend to do the best we can to stick around until we can live as free people in a country of our own.”
Mr Fayyad was front and center at the birthday celebrations, visiting one of the largest mosaics in the Middle East, unveiled for the occasion.  A 900-square-meter mosaic that is 1,200 years old, and covered by sand and canvas since the 1930s to protect it.
The PM opened a new road named after the late Mahmoud Darwish - considered the Palestinian national poet.  And Mr Fayyad was the first to use a brand new postage stamp designed specifically for Jericho 10,000.
A marathon, open air concert and many other projects contributed to the occasion, although for such a momentous  age, few tourists came.
Khloud Daibes, Palestinian tourism minister said, “Palestine as a destination is a very challenging one … we’re using this occasion to draw attention to the fact it is an exciting destination.”

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Filed under: Archaeology •Culture •Inside The Middle East •Jerusalem •Palestinians •West Bank

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Posted: 558 GMT
Avigdor Liberman, pictured in Jerusalem, is not known for his diplomatic style.
Avigdor Liberman, pictured in Jerusalem, is not known for his diplomatic style.

Solve your own problems before you lecture us about ours.

That was the blunt message Israel's combative and controversial foreign minister, Avigdor Liberman, gave to counterparts visiting from France and Spain earlier this week in Jerusalem.

In comments widely publicized in the Israeli media Monday, Liberman told Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner that European countries needed to work on the conflicts in their own backyards before advising Israel on how to handle its decades-old dispute with Arab neighbors.

"I do expect you at least to solve problems in Europe before you come to teach us how to resolve conflicts. After you solve conflicts in the Caucasus, Cyprus, in Transnistria or the ongoing fight between Serbia and Kosovo - come to us and then I will be ready to accept your advice."

Liberman also wanted the visiting diplomats to know that Israel could not be pushed around like he said some European countries were on the eve of the Second World War.

"In 1938 the European community decided to appease (Adolf) Hitler instead of supporting its faithful ally Czechoslovakia and sacrificed it without receiving anything in return," Liberman told Moratinos and Kouchner, according to media reports. "I'm telling you: we will not be the 2010 version of Czechoslovakia. We will defend our essential interests."

And to make things crystal clear to the visiting diplomats, the Israeli foreign minister explained some of the faults of recent diplomatic efforts.

"It seems like the international community is trying to hide its failures to resolve conflicts in Somalia, North Korea, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Sudan and other places by pushing for an Israel-Palestinian agreement in one year..."

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October 14, 2010
Posted: 1518 GMT

The Gulf has one of the fastest-growing and youngest populations in the world. Its countries are also among the top spenders on education, according to an Economist Intelligence Unit report – "The GCC in 2020: The Gulf and its People."

The report highlights a problem that Gulf Countries are acutely aware of: "Rapid population growth will ... create a large pool of labour that may be difficult to absorb into the private sector, owing to mismatches not only of skills, but also of expectations of wages and working conditions. Ongoing education reforms will help, but will not solve these mismatches within the next 10 years."

The Education Project conference in Bahrain sought to address those challenge and others. Bahrain, unlike its wealthier neighbours, is not awash with gas and oil. It knows its future lies in its ability to transition to a post-oil economy. Education will be, participants said,  essential to increase economic diversification and national growth.

CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom moderated the opening debate "What does it mean to be an educated adult in today's knowledge economy?"

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Filed under: Bahrain •Inside The Middle East

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October 13, 2010
Posted: 1619 GMT

A top Palestinian negotiator distanced the Palestinian Authority government from comments made by a senior Palestinian Liberation Organization official inferring  Palestinians might recognize Israel as a Jewish state in exchange for a future Palestinian state based on 1967 borders that included all of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

 "We are not going to do anything that would pre-empt or prejudge the rights of the Palestinians in Israel or Palestinian refugees" Nabil Sha'ath, an advisor to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, told CNN. "We are not going to do it – forget it"

Sha'ath's comments followed a  report by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz quoting PLO official Yasser Abed Rabbo as saying "We want to receive a map of the State of Israel which Israel wants us to accept....If the map will be based on the 1967 borders and will not  include our land, our houses and East Jerusalem, we will be willing to recognize Israel according to the formulation of the government within the hour,"

He went on to tell the newspaper "It is important for us to know where are the borders of Israel and where are the borders of Palestine. Any formulation the Americans present – even asking us to call Israel the 'Chinese State' – we will agree to it, as long as we receive the 1967 borders. We have recognized Israel in the past, but Israel has not recognized the Palestinian state."

Sha'ath told CNN that Abed Rabbo's comments, as reported, did not represent  the position of the PLO or the Fatah political faction which dominates the Palestinian Authority.

On Monday Palestinians rejected an offer from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyau to renew a freeze on new construction in the occupied West Bank in exchange for Palestinian recognition of Isarel as a Jewish state.

Arab Knesset member, Ahmed Tibi,  told CNN that in a phone conversation Wednesday with Mahmoud Abbas the Palestinian president assured him there was no intention to recognize Israel a Jewish state.

CNN, despite repeated attempts, was unable to contact Abed Rabbo for comment.

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Filed under: Fatah •Israel •Palestinians •West Bank

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Posted: 1545 GMT

I heard them before I saw them.  Canaries happily warbling outside of Hezbollah’s press registration office in Beirut’s southern suburb of Dahieh.

Now, security is tight as always given that this militant Shia political party is considered a terrorist organization by the US and Lebanon’s neighbor Israel.  We fully expected a thorough search, since Iranian president Ahmadinejad is about to give a speech to his supporters in Lebanon’s capital, and Hezbollah believes that there is a constant threat of an attack.

The birds, however, quite unexpected.

“Are they here to detect poisonous gas?” I ask our producer Jomana.

“No it can’t be.” She says.

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Posted: 1046 GMT

From Arwa Damon, CNN

Beirut, Lebanon (CNN) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in Beirut for his first state visit to Lebanon Wednesday.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad crosses Beirut airport highway on his first visit to the country on Wednesday
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad crosses Beirut airport highway on his first visit to the country on Wednesday

Ahmadinejad was greeted at the airport by members of parliament, government officials and Hezbollah political leaders. The streets near the airport were packed with people in a festive mood carrying Iranian and Lebanese flags.

The Iranian leader met Lebanese President Michel Suleiman at the Presidential Palace here and was scheduled to meet other leaders as well as leaders of Hezbollah's resistance movement.

The United States considers Hezbollah, which has close ties to Iran and Syria, to be a terrorist organization. The Shiite group is a political party and a major provider of social services in Lebanon, but it also operates a militant wing.

Hezbollah has been linked to numerous terrorist attacks against American, Israeli and other Western targets. Some Muslims see it as a heroic organization, successful in its stated objective of driving Israeli forces from Lebanon.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has expressed concern to Suleiman about Ahmadinejad's Lebanon visit, according to a State Department spokesman.

But in southern Lebanon many were happy that Ahmadinejad was coming. Read full article...


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October 10, 2010
Posted: 1327 GMT

Israeli cabinet ministers on Sunday approved by a majority vote a controversial proposal which would require every non-Jew wishing to become a citizen of Israel to vow loyalty to "the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state."

The law has been the subject of much controversy, especially among Israel's Arab minority.

Arab Knesset member Ahmed Tibi from the Ra'am-Ta'al party criticized the proposed move last week, saying that "the values of Jewish and Democratic cannot be in the same definition because democracy is the equality of all the citizens. But an ethnic definition as Jewish is the preference of the Jew over that of the Arab and therefore it fixates an inferior status to 20 percent of the population."

In describing the reasons for the timing of the proposed change of language, Mark Regev, a spokesman for Netanyahu, said last week, "What we are asking others to accept we have to demand of ourselves" - a reference to the recent Israeli government demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.

Israel is home to roughly 6 million Jewish citizens and 1.5 million Arab citizens.

Read the full article in the Israeli daily Haaretz.

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October 8, 2010
Posted: 740 GMT

Watch Inside the Middle East from Aqaba, Jordan this weekend or view it online.

From CNN's Rima Maktabi

Every city has its own character and, just like human beings, at times you need to press certain buttons to discover it. In the Jordanian city of Aqaba, it wasn't easy on my first day of shooting for Inside the Middle East (IME) to sense the city.

Rima Maktabi on the shores of the Gulf of Aqaba. Jordan, Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia all have borders here on the Northern Red Sea.
Rima Maktabi on the shores of the Gulf of Aqaba. Jordan, Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia all have borders here on the Northern Red Sea.
Hajj Khodor, a popular restaurant in Old Aqaba, is over 30 years old and boasts King Abdullah II and his father the late King Hussein as patrons.
Hajj Khodor, a popular restaurant in Old Aqaba, is over 30 years old and boasts King Abdullah II and his father the late King Hussein as patrons.

After a four-hour drive through the desert from Amman, a tight security checkpoint stands just at the outskirts of Aqaba; then the Red sea welcomes you. The weather was hot and dry, the temperature topping 38 degrees Celsius while clouds covered the sky announcing autumn's arrival. It even rained for few minutes even though Aqaba's inhabitants say they hardly ever see the rain!

At first glance the city looks new, not because of its exceptional architectural style, but rather because of a few construction sites. Taxi drivers, people in the streets and the concierge at the hotel constantly tell you about this new resort and that new compound. Aqaba is small and anything happening in the city could be big for its residents.

But for Haythem, Aqaba is a solid mix of old and new. He is a Jordanian in his early 30s who we chose randomly to accompany us during our third day of filming IME. The producer barely mentioned a request to see Aqaba, and off was Haythem in his car to different locations that show us the sunset, the Israeli city of Eilat (visible across the water), the Egyptian city of Taba on the other side of the Gulf of Aqaba, the mountains and Haj Khodor's restaurants.

As a first time visitor to Aqaba, the geography of the place struck me. I can even say I was perplexed.  That northern tip of the Red Sea is bordered by four countries: Eygpt, Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The landscape reveals beautiful nature but geopolitics ruins the image. Here, this land is one cause of more than a century's worth of conflict over territories, water, power, religion and existence. I said to myself: how can such a serene land occupy the East and the West with such a long bloody conflict?! But then, why blame the land not the people?

Our scouting for filming sites stretched to Old Aqaba. In a neighborhood that smelled of poverty and history, we drove. There was Hajj Khodor, a simple popular restaurant that reveals the real beat of the city. The owner greets us and says: "Hajj Khodor is my father; he died couple of years ago. The famous old restaurant is just across the street where my father started his business 30 years ago." We were then told that the place would be busiest in the morning.

The next day we arrived at Hajj Khodor's at 11 am. Haythem could not drive us because he had a job interview at Oumnia, a telecommunication company. "I am an engineer not a driver," Haythem told me the day before, "but I cannot find a job, so I try to make a living driving this taxi." So Haythem's father drove us to Hajj Khodor which was like a bee hive. People come in the morning  for breakfast. Hommos, falafel and foul (fava beans) are the main dishes served there. The cashier is Egyptian and "has been with us for more than 30 years," we were told. The hommos is "Beiruti" while the foul is made the Egyptian way.

I am always careful of what I eat. I travel a lot and food can be my enemy at times. So we filmed the restaurant, talked to the owner and lingered around for a while. Then I couldn't resist, I asked for one small plate of foul (fava beans) to share with IME team.

There in Hajj Khodor's restaurant, as well as in Aqaba's streets, everyone asks you tens of questions. Why are you here? What are you doing? Who do you work for? Whether they get answers or not, some pick up the phone and tell others who and what they have seen. Then come Jordanian intelligence officers, a few hours later come the police and so on so forth.

Security is a major concern here in Aqaba. Israel is just next door. So close that once in 1986, an Air France plane bound for Eliat mistakenly landed in Aqaba, Jordan!

Away from security concerns, it is unlikely that you could walk into any place in Jordan and not see pictures of the ruler. Photos of the Jordanian King Abduallah II and his son, the Crown Prince are everywhere. Even at this popular busy restaurant, big pictures of the late King Hussein, his son Abduallah and the 16-year-old Prince Hussein are the first things you see as you enter Hajj Khodor. "Even the king eats here," the owner proudly tells IME team.

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October 6, 2010
Posted: 2023 GMT


IOC Chief Jacques Rogge and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad at West Bank football match (Mustafa Abu Dayeh/Palestinian Authority PM Office)
IOC Chief Jacques Rogge and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad at West Bank football match (Mustafa Abu Dayeh/Palestinian Authority PM Office)

I asked the Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad how it felt to be cheered by thousands of Palestinians while showing off his football skills at al-Ram stadium north of Jerusalem.

The reply… “Wonderful.  Just wonderful.  We should be the ones playing with the players watching.”

 The “we” refers to him and Jacques Rogge, head of the International Olympics Committee on a whirlwind tour of Jordan, the West Bank and Israel.        

They were all suited and booted but from afar their skills looked pretty good.  But you should take into account I only attended my first football match two years ago – again here at Ram stadium, to watch the first ever Palestinian home match on Palestinian soil.

The IOC visit was high-profile and much welcomed by the leadership and fans alike.  The hope is Rogge can bring pressure on the Israeli authorities, who he is also talking to, to allow more freedom of movement for the athletes to attend competitions overseas.

Rogge has invited both sides to a sporting summit in Lausanne, Switzerland, the IOC headquarters to try to improve the status quo.  He told me he himself cannot be political but sport itself has the power of persuasion.

“Sport is a universal language, everyone understands a sports result around the world, the rules of sport are the same in every country in the world and sport brings people together irrespective of their ethnic origin, their culture, their language, their creed, so that’s the value and strength of sport.”

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Filed under: Israel •Palestinians •Sports •West Bank

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October 5, 2010
Posted: 1211 GMT

Screen shot of video posted on You Tube (AFP/Getty Images)

The Israeli military Tuesday denounced  a video that surfaced on YouTube that showed what appeared to be an Israeli soldier dancing around a blindfolded and bound Palestinian prisoner.

The video comes after a number of social media controversies have engulfed the Israeli military. This summer, a female former Israeli soldier posted photos of herself posing in front of blindfolded Palestinian prisoners. The photos and her subsequent defense of her actions sparked international criticism of the military.

It was not known when the latest video was shot, but it appears to have been posted in 2008.

The clip, which first aired Monday night on Israel's Channel 10, shows a man dressed in an Israeli army fatigues dancing next to a blindfolded female woman.

Contacted by CNN, the Israeli military said it in a statement that is was investigating the incident and that such examinations would now become "standard practice in cases in which similar behavior is alleged"

The statement went on to read:

"The IDF denounces actions such as those depicted in the videos, and continues to make every effort to eliminate such behavior through briefings to soldiers, directives to officers, military orders, and punishment when necessary. Our soldiers are held to the ethical standards set forth by the IDF Code of Ethics, which they are taught time and again, from basic training to the most senior command courses. The videos are isolated cases that do not represent the IDF as a whole. "

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